Learning to drive laws

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist

As your teenager’s 17th birthday approaches talk will inevitably turn to driving lessons. Make sure they have the best, and safest, start to their driving career with our guide to learning to drive.

Getting started

Before getting behind the wheel, every learner must hold a valid, provisional driving licence for Great Britain or Northern Ireland. They must also ensure any vehicle they drive is roadworthy and properly taxed and insured. In addition, all learner drivers are required to display ‘L’ plates (‘L’ or ‘D’ plates in Wales) in a conspicuous position on the front and rear of the vehicle they are driving.
In order to qualify for a full driving licence, the learner must take, and pass, both a theory test and a practical test.

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The theory test

The theory test is made up of two parts – a multiple choice questionnaire and a hazard perception test. Both parts of the theory test have to be passed before the learner can take the practical test and if one part is passed and the other failed, the candidate is deemed to have failed the whole test.

The questions in each multiple choice test vary according to the category of vehicle for which a learner is hoping to obtain a licence. For example, the motorcycle theory test will contain specific questions that do not appear in any other test.

For the hazard perception test, however, there are no separate versions for different vehicles, each vehicle category takes the same test.

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Hazard perception

The hazard perception element of the theory test was introduced in November 2002 as one of the measures aimed at reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads. The learner is encouraged to scan the road, recognise, at the first opportunity from the clues available, that a potentially dangerous situation might arise and adopt a driving plan to reduce the risk.

The hazard perception test is delivered on a computer and the learner responds by clicking a button on the mouse. They will be presented with a series of 14 video clips which feature every day road scenes. In each clip there will be at least one developing hazard, but one of the clips will feature two developing hazards.

To achieve a high score the candidate needs to respond to the hazard during the early part of its development.

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The practical driving test

Once a learner driver has passed the theory tests, he or she can move onto the practical test. The test is designed to examine a candidate’s ability to drive safely and their knowledge of the Highway Code.

The practical driving test takes around 40 minutes and will include:

  • An eyesight test (if this is failed the test will not continue)
  • General driving
  • An emergency stop
  • One driving manoeuvre chosen by the examiner either reversing around a corner, turning in the road or reverse paring
  • Around 10 minutes of independent driving by either driving to a destination following traffic signs, drive following a series of verbal directions and diagrams or a combination of both.

During the test, the examiner will be looking for an overall safe standard of driving.
A candidate can make up to 15 driving faults and still pass the test (16 or more results in failure). However, if they commit one serious or dangerous fault they will fail the test instantly. If at any time the examiner considers a learner to be a danger to other road users the test will be stopped.

Learner drivers are allowed to take someone on the test with them, this person must be over 16-years-old and cannot take any part in the test.


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Choosing an instructor

It is important for any learner to have some lessons with an approved driving instructor (ADI). They have the experience, knowledge and training to teach the skills necessary to drive safely and pass the driving test. However, there are thousands of driving instructors out there who want your business, so it can be hard to know which one to choose.

Only an ADI registered with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) can charge money for driving lessons, so ensure the instructor you choose is registered. A fully qualified ADI must display a green certificate on his or her windscreen.  Some trainee driving instructors are granted a licence so they can gain experience before their qualifying examination. In this case, they must display a pink certificate.

Before signing up with an instructor, ask the following questions:

  • What is your pass rate? If the failures outweigh the passes go elsewhere!
  • What DSA grade are you? The DSA grades all its registered instructors, with grade 4 adequate and grades 5 and 6 the best
  • When were you last assessed by the DSA? The standard of tuition given by the ADI should be regularly checked by the DSA
  • Do you operate piggy-back lessons? A bad practice in which the learner drives the person who had a lesson before them home, and then gets driven home by the next learner and so on.

One of the best ways to find a good instructor that you are able to trust is to ask friends and relatives for their recommendations. Try to ensure that the instructor you choose:

  • has a good reputation
  • is reliable and punctual
  • has a car that suits the learner
  • has a car that’s clean and looked after


Practice makes perfect

If you are the parent of a learner driver and have a suitable car, you may wish to allow them to practise their driving in between lessons. Any adult can accompany a learner as long as they are at least 21 years old and have held a full UK licence for at least three years.

Ideally, a learner should have at least one private practice session for every professional driving lesson. To make the most of these practice sessions, as the supervising driver you should:

  • Familiarise yourself with the latest edition of the Highway Code
  • Take a good look at your own driving (preferably with a competent assessor!) and iron out any bad habits
  • Make sure the learner is ready for practice sessions
  • Talk with the driving instructor to find out which areas need work
  • Remember, you are not allowed to use instructor dual controls
  • Check out RoSPA’s site www.helpingldrivers.com for more information


Insurance and the law

Before embarking on any driving lessons and private practice sessions, both the learner driver and the supervisor must be insured and comply fully with the law.

The learner must:

  • have a valid provisional driving licence (this can be applied for before their 17th birthday, but cannot be used until that date)
  • be insured to drive the vehicle (contact your insurance company and ask them to include a learner on your policy. Take note of any restrictions)
  • meet the legal minimum eyesight standards (they must be able to read an old style number plate at 20.5m, or a new style plate at 20m)
  • only drive when supervised and when the car displays L Plates (or D Plates in Wales).

As a supervising driver you must be over 21-years-old and have held a full UK driving licence for at least three years. You are also responsible for ensuring that the learner is insured to drive your car, that the car is roadworthy and that you also meet the minimum eyesight requirements.

When you are supervising a learner driver, you have the same legal responsibilities as if you were driving. Drink-drive and mobile phone laws apply just as if you were in the driver’s seat. It is also illegal to receive any payment for accompanying a learner driver, unless you are an Approved Driving Instructor and hold the ADI certificate from the Driving Standards Agency.

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Q: What is Pass Plus and is it worth paying for?
A: Pass Plus is a training scheme for new drivers which was developed by the DSA in order to raise driving standards among young and newly qualified drivers. The Pass Plus course aims to build up a new driver’s confidence, experience and improve their hazard awareness. It also gives drivers a chance to experience roads and conditions (for example, motorway driving) that they won’t have come across prior to passing their test.

The course takes a minimum of six hours but fees vary depending on where you take the course, how long it takes you to complete it and the availability of instructors. However, it could be well worth doing as it not only has the potential to make you a better, safer driver but may also save you money on your insurance. Many insurance companies will offer discounts to those who have completed a Pass Plus course.

Q: What is the average number of lessons a learner needs to be up to test standard?
A:  It depends how frequently you have your lessons and how long each lesson is, but according to the DSA, it takes an average person approximately 1.5 hours of lessons, for each year of their life. So if you’re 17 years old, it could take 25/30 hours to pass the test.

Q: Can someone over the legal drink-drive limit supervise a sober learner driver?
A: Anyone over the drink-drive limit who is supervising a learner driver can be charged with the offence of being ‘drunk in charge’. The offence currently carries 10 penalty points and a discretionary disqualification.

Q: Is the accident rate for young drivers as bad as it ever was?
A: Statistics from RoSPA show that more than 3,000 drivers under 25 are killed or seriously injured each year. One in five drivers crashes within his or her first year of driving. An 18-year-old driver is more than three times as likely to be involved in a crash as a 48-year-old driver. Young drivers are more likely to be involved in high-speed crashes, single vehicle crashes involving losing control, crashes in the dark and crashes when overtaking and negotiating bends.

Q: I’m being encouraged to block book 40 hours of lessons for my daughter. Is that wise? Can I get my money back if we don’t like the instructor?
A: Many driving schools offer discounts for block booking lessons and this can look attractive, but until you are sure you want to go with a particular school or instructor it makes sense not to sign up to anything. It is also difficult to know how many lessons your daughter will need (see above). Make sure you read the small print on any booking form before paying – few will offer refunds if you simply don’t get on with the instructor. 


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The information on this Site is provided on the understanding that GEM Motoring Assist is not rendering legal or other advice. You should consult your own professional advisers as to legal or other advice relevant to any action you wish to take in connection with this website.

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